Sometimes our best ministry activities attract the wrong people. Church summer camp, for instance, is often the highlight of a church's summer ministry. Sadly, sex offenders know this too. According to John McLaughlin, an officer with the police department of Keene, New Hampshire, offenders may target and use activities common to children and youth ministries to find their next victims. For churches during the summer months, this can mean camps, Vacation Bible School, and other children's programs.
In a recent webinar by Safe Hiring Solutions, McLaughlin described how child sex offenders select, seduce, maintain, and dump their victims. Here are tips that every church leader (and parent) should know for keeping kids safe from sexual abuse.
When offenders are selecting victims, they look for opportunities where children will be wearing limited clothing, changing clothes (such as in swimming), available for one-on-one contact with adults, and staying overnight, said McLaughlin. Offenders also try to identify who the most vulnerable children are, such as children with bad home lives or who aren't fitting in at school, and they seek to build trust and respect through a courting-like seduction phase.
Many churches take their children and youth to camps in the summer and may or may not know the counselors and other camp workers well. Summer camp could, unfortunately, be a perfect opportunity for offenders: children wear skimpier summer clothes, swim, change, and sleep over with adult chaperones. Additionally, adults spend lots of time with small groups of children and may even have one-on-one time with them. Counselors at camp also become privy to information identifying vulnerable children as they have in-depth conversations with children over the time at camp.
While offenders often seek out long-term relationships with children, according to McLaughlin, another type of offender lurks: the Seducer. Seducers focus on short-term manipulation strategies. For example, McLaughlin told about a man who walked into the locker room at a local pool and convinced the children in the locker room that he worked there and needed to give them each a physical exam. Other Seducers will find ways to "accidentally" brush up against children inappropriately. Summer camp may provide many opportunities for these manipulation strategies.
Is your church screening volunteers before sending kids off to camp and in your children's ministry at church? Do you spell out clear rules and policies for relationships between adults and children? Post a comment and tell us what your church does so we can learn from each other.
For more on how to protect children at your church, check out these resources:
- Creating Child Protection Policies
- Child Sexual Abuse Response Plan
- Prevent Child Sexual Abuse in the Church
- Creating a Safe Camp Experience
- Vacation Bible School Safety
- Planning Safe Mission Trips
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